The 12 best small businesses for Christmas shopping
I know that some super organised people have bought and wrapped all of their Christmas presents, but for the mere mortals among us, I thought I’d point you towards some of my fave special locations in Herts both on the high street and online. What’s so lovely about all of these businesses is that if you go into the shop, you’ll meet the owner (unless they’ve keeled over from fatigue or are hiding in a cupboard) and if it’s online, you’ll be in direct contact with them. All of these business owners have bags of personality and a great story to tell. And they all sell gifts that you won’t find everywhere else. Here goes:
Flagship Wines, St Albans
Let’s get our priorities right. If you want to be guided, dazzled and listened to, set your sat nav for Hatfield Road and head for Flagship Wines. Julia Jenkins is witty and wise and she is just so brilliant at making excellent pairing recommendations. Or she’ll say, ‘try this’, after you’ve told her what kind of mood you’re in. On Friday evenings and all day Saturday there are tastings in store. I can’t think of a better person to recommend those Christmas bottles. At the moment the shop is full of special gift ideas. Flagship Wines, 417 Hatfield Road, St Albans, AL4 0XP.
George Street Canteen Pantry, St Albans
A wonderful place, and on a magical street. On Saturday there’s an all day street party on George Street, when cars will be diverted and the green carpet (fake grass) will be rolled out. Step into the courtyard, and on your left, there’s a pantry, stacked with yummy local food that makes for perfect presents. From Saturday, you’ll also be able to buy your Christmas tree here. You won’t find mint Matchmakers or a Terry’s chocolate orange, but why not try Nellienoo fudge made in Welwyn Garden City, Wobbly Bottom Cheese from Hitchin, and Dizzy Bee granola, also made locally. Oh, and oils from Mrs Middleton. While you’re there, the hot chocolate in the cafe is delicious. George Street Canteen, 9A George St, St Albans AL3 4ER.
Staffy B, Baldock
Staffy B has been such a great find. It’s on the high street in Baldock and it’s a brilliant place. Owners Toni and Hayley are informed and irreverent, and they have great taste! Whether it’s style advice, a mood board, stocking fillers, candles, paint, lighting, furniture or a Christmas tree made out of feathers, you’ll find it here. The shop is beautiful, the music is great; it’s a fab shop that’s full of colour and ideas. It’s the Baldock Christmas Fair on Sat 2 Dec, so there will be reindeer on the high street, and mulled wine in the shop. Staffy B, 63 High Street, Baldock, SG7 6BG
David’s Bookshop & David’s Music, Letchworth
David’s Bookshop is close to my heart because I used to go here with my dad to listen to records in the seventies. In some ways not much has changed: you can still listen to records, but actually everything has changed: it’s even better. The bookshop is between the music shop and cafe, which is newish and simply gorgeous (with glossy green tiles and delicious cakes). Everyone who works at David’s is friendly and knowledgeable and loves books and music. They now also sell great gifts and the selection of cards is fab. And they have wonderful events! The last time I was here I had a bit of a moment of desire for some Cambridge Imprint tea towels and wrapping paper (I haven’t got a dishwasher so tea towels are a big part of my life). But the main reason to go to David’s is of course for the books and music. The children’s book department is fantastic. Go to David’s!
Sarah Cooke had a really good idea when she started her business Halia Rose. Babies love to chew their mother’s necklaces, so she discovered silicone jewellery that is robust, washable, swimable, looks great and is safe for babies to chew. Halia Rose also does fun teethers made from the same material, and also a range of jewellery for young children. It’s a new business, and she’s been busy doing loads of shows and Christmas fairs. You can buy online, or go and meet her at the pop up event on White Mint, Berkhamsted on Weds 6 Dec, or she’ll be at the Milton Keynes Christmas Sparkle Fair on Sat 9 Dec. Back in Berko on Sun 17 Dec for the Berkhamsted Christmas Fair.
What Sarah Did, Hitchin
What Sarah Did is not a shop, it’s a way of life. I realise that sounds cheesy, but please believe me, it’s true. Sarah Clare IS style. She’s also an ambassador for Hitchin. Sarah Clare is a stylist, so she can come to your house and sort you and your wardrobe. Be warned: when you visit the shop, you’ll want to buy most of what’s in it. Brands include Hudson, Colourful Rebel, Scotch and Soda, Miss Pom Pom and Rue de Femme. You can even just go in and buy a pencil that says Sarah’s pencil. (It helps to be called Sarah, or to know a Sarah for gifting purposes). There are candles from Plum and Ashby, and little wooden letters that you can use as gift tags (rather than cutting up old Christmas cards if anyone actually does that anymore) and scarves and shoes and brilliant things. I love this shop. A lot. What Sarah Did, 5 Bancroft, Hitchin SG5 1JQ.
Oglee Poglee is such a great business, and the owner and founder Claire is just so creative and runs amazing workshops for children during the school holidays. The craft kits are very popular for party bags but are also perfect Christmas stocking fillers. Someone has just bought 12 of the craft kits, each with a different theme, and plans to give one each month next year to her niece as her Christmas present. Inspired!
Tankini time. Lisa Montague, the founder of Blackfish, lives in Hitchin, and she is a pretty special business owner. Read her story, and have a look at her swimwear. Rather than think, ‘I need to lose a stone before I can go near a pool’, you can slip on one of these Blackfish numbers and they kind of sculpt and tone and make you feel nimble and fit before your toes have even touched the water. Lisa is the real deal and she swims every day. You can mix and match with the tops and bottoms. Have a look. I think you’ll like them.
Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery, Halls Green
I know this is a bit cheeky because you might not be in the market for a special ring, and most of the work by Harriet Kelsall is bespoke. But this is such a special business, and it’s in a beautiful barn near Weston with a cafe with delicious cakes. And there is jewellery (ready made) that you can buy for Christmas presents. It’s actually very popular with walkers and cyclists as a place to drop in for inspiration and coffee. Harriet Kelsall, Fairclough Hall Farm, Halls Green, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, SG4 7DP.
Amelie is one of those places that you will know if you live on the West Side, or rather, if you hail from Berko or Tring. Sharon and her team are so good at knowing what suits people, and are extremely honest and great fun. There’s a very friendly vibe in the shop, and as well as clothes, they always have brilliant accessories and they stock Escentric Molecules perfume. Brands include J Brand, Leon & Harper, M.i.h Jeans, Paul Smith, By Malene Birger. If you don’t know Amelie or Berkhamsted, this is a shop that’s definitely worth a special trip. On Sat 2 Dec, they are having a special celebratory small business day, with gifts for the first 15 visitors, 10% off all collections, and festive bubbles. Amelie 264 High St, Berkhamsted HP4 1AQ.
Home & Colonial, Berkhamsted
Home & Colonial is an institution and is often referred to as the Liberty of Berkhamsted. Owner Ali Reid-Davies celebrated 20 years of being on the high street in Berkhamsted this year. The shop has 5 floors – or is it 4 – with the wonderful Black Goo cafe at the top. Spread over the other floors, with taste and style, are over 35 small businesses, selling everything from French furniture to kilims with clothes, paintings, clocks, retro furniture and antiques. The perfect place to find presents that will thrill friends and family.
Hermitage Road, Hitchin
A twinkly treasure trove with accessories and homewares for every corner of your home including kitchen and bathroom. Toys, cards, candles and all sorts. You’ll be dazzled. Hermitage Rd & Co has its own coffee shop on the ground floor and above is the famous Hermitage Rd bar and restaurant. This gift and interiors shop is packed to the rafters with Christmas gifts and if it all gets too much, you can always go upstairs for a cocktail.